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[All About PBV] Better Customer Experience: Kia’s First PBV Niro Plus

2022-05-09

As part of its PBV business, Kia plans to showcase various models tailored to customer needs. Niro Plus - a derivative PBV, scheduled to be released this year - is on the market as the EV taxi in Korea and as the EV mandate for ride-hailing in other countries. Here is why Kia developed a PBV specialized in public transportation services.

Taxis are the most common and convenient means of transportation in any country. The concept of a modern taxi, equipped with a meter that measures fares based on distance or time, was established at the beginning of the 20th century. Since then, taxis have been active as a quick-and-easy means of transportation for busy modern people. Although taxis operate in many countries around the world, their forms and features vary depending on regional transportation environments and lifestyles, market size, and eco-friendly regulations.

The mobility sharing service provided by Hyundai Motor Group, Shucle, is a ride-pooling service that allows passengers with similar routes to travel together.

In addition to the current taxi service, various mobility services such as *ride-hailing and *ride-pooling that provide transportation services to passengers destinations are emerging, and other means of transportation similar with taxis are increasing. The number of EVs itself is growing for the environment issues, and introducing these as taxis is a significant change in the industry.

*Ride-hailing: A service that connects transportation service providers and passengers. In Korea, there is a Kakao Taxi service.
*Ride Pooling: A ride-sharing mobility service in which passengers on similar routes travel together. In Korea, there is the Hyundai Motor Group’s AI-based mobility service, Shucle.

As such, the demand has continuously increased, but since there has been no taxi business model optimized for transportation services in Korea, it has been difficult to fully respond to the diverse needs of consumers. To solve this problem, Kia plans to introduce the Niro Plus, developed as part of its PBV business, and also release the Niro Plus taxi optimized for taxi services.

To move forward as a customer-centric company, Kia intends to provide a means of transportation that meets the customers’ needs. The automaker made the PBV with this intention; In the future, it plans to introduce various PBVs based on the needs of various customers – taxis, corporations, local governments, camping service providers, etc. The Niro Plus, scheduled to be released this year, is a derivative PBV model, sold as an EV taxi model in Korea and as an EV hailing model overseas. This will provide a new mobility life for transport service providers, passengers, and the rest of the consumers. The stories of Kia’s Niro Plus Taxi are here, through examples of taxi models in the world.

Automobiles exclusively for taxis in the UK and Japan

Austin FX4 Taxi as London Black Cab for 40 years

The first model among taxis around the world is London’s Black Cab taxi. The black cap is most widely known for the FX model manufactured by Austin Motors, and for the FX4 model, it has been running on the streets of London for 40 years, from 1958 to 1997. The FX mainly had a classic exterior, high interior space, a separate luggage space for easy loading and unloading instead of the passenger seat, and was equipped with a diesel engine. The successor of the FX series is the TX series, which has been improved for the convenience of passengers, such as a more comfortable cabin space, an auxiliary footrest for disabled passengers, and a swivel chair.

Model LEVC TX5, now London’s black cab taxi. Photo: LEVC (https://levc.com/)

The TX5 black cab, currently produced by LEVC (London Electric Vehicle Company), a subsidiary of Geely, is an eco-friendly taxi that introduced a plug-in hybrid powertrain with extended mileage while the UK banned diesel engines in new black cabs from 2018. The TX5 can travel up to 318 miles (approx. 512 km) and 63 miles (101 km) without emissions.

Cabin space of London Black Cab TX5: A simple driver’s seat and design for passenger convenience stand out. Photo: LEVC (https://levc.com/)

The interior space was designed to consider the convenience of black cab drivers and passengers. It is easy to control various features through the center monitor facing the driver’s seat. The second-row seats can accommodate up to six passengers facing each other, with a climate controller that can be operated separately from the rear seat, not to mention multiple USB ports for mobile devices charging system.

Toyota Crown Comfort Taxi: Japan’s most famous taxi with a long history

Japan, too, has automobiles exclusively for taxis. Until recently, a popular taxi in Japan was the “Crown Comfort,” which was launched in 1995 by remodeling Toyota’s mid-size sedan “Crown,” reducing convenience features suitable for taxis and improving economic efficiency. Crown Comfort, manufactured as a commercial vehicle, was also widely used as a police car, and the Crown Comfort taxi was a symbol of Japanese public taxis for over 10 years, from 1995 to early 2018.

JPN Taxi, a taxi model newly showcased by Toyota in 2017. Photo: Toyota Newsroom (https://global.toyota/en/newsroom/)

Toyota has been showcasing new taxi models since 2017. It is a JPN taxi developed based on the 7-seater compact MPV Sienta with a high ceiling, unlike the existing classic 4-door sedan. It has a shape similar to that of a British black cap. The floor is designed to be low so that passengers with disabilities can get on and off comfortably, and a separate footrest and wide-opening rear sliding door are provided for convenient getting on and off.

The cabin space of Japanese JPN taxis is optimized for taxi operation. Photo: Toyota Newsroom (https://global.toyota/en/newsroom/)

The driver’s space has been designed to be very functional; Control devices such as taxi dispatchers, instrument panels, and air conditioners are designed for taxi drivers. Navigation and taxi meters are placed near the center fascia where passengers in the rear can see them easily. JPN taxi houses a hybrid system that combines a 1.5ℓ 4-cylinder LPG engine and a motor, so it has excellent efficiency of 19.4km/ℓ based on Japanese domestic demand.

Taxis in America, Europe, and Asia

Ford Crown Victoria Taxi, the New York Yellow Cab

You may find each characteristic of taxi models in other countries besides the UK and Japan. In the United States, the Crown Victoria, a large rear-wheel-drive sedan manufactured by Ford from 1955 to 2011, was the most common taxi. Crown Victoria, manufactured by putting the body on a frame on which the drivetrain is placed, has a simple and strong structure, so it has been widely used as a police car in addition to taxis. U.S. taxis are vivid yellow to deter crime and illegal business; New York’s Yellow Cab is one example.

The Nissan NV200 taxi is briefly served as a yellow cab after the Ford Crown Victoria. Photo: Nissan Newsroom (https://global.nissannews.com/en)

After Crown Victoria was discontinued, the New York Taxi & Limousine Association started running a ‘Taxi of Tomorrow’ program to discover new taxis, and introduced Nissan’s minivan, the NV200, with a new yellow cab. Although it was not developed as a taxi model, the NV200 can accommodate 4 passengers as well as passengers in wheelchairs. After the NV200 retired from the yellow cab in 2018, as eco-friendly powertrains have been trending recently, various types of eco-friendly taxis such as minivans, MPVs, and SUVs are being used. The Tesla Model 3 made a name for itself as the first electric taxi to be licensed in New York.

Mercedes-Benz taxis are common in Europe.

Even in Europe, where there are many car brands, there are so many different taxi models. Countries with their own national brands – Germany, France, Spain, Italy, etc. – usually use small and medium-sized sedans, wagons, and MPV models of their popular brands as taxis. For example, Peugeot in France, Volkswagen and Opel in Germany, and Fiat brand vehicles in Italy are common. But not all of them use their own national brand models because it is easy to move around in Europe; there are many taxi models from the popular brands mentioned above, and taxi models from the US and Asia, such as Ford and Toyota, are also popular.

What is unusual is that luxury sedans such as the premium brand Mercedes-Benz’s C, E, and S-Class are also frequently used as taxis. In the case of the most popular E-class taxi, the price of a regular passenger car starts from at least 50,000 euros, while the taxi model has a price range of 30,000 to 40,000 euros. Of course, it lacks a lot of high-end specifications compared to regular passenger cars, but it is popular among European taxi drivers due to various factors such as comfortable ride quality, reliable durability, and powertrain performance. In the Netherlands and Northern Europe, where sales of electric vehicles are rapidly increasing, the growth of electric taxis is notable.

Shanghai Volkswagen Santana takes up the majority of taxis operating in Beijing, the capital of China.

In Asia, there is a wide variation in the number of taxis used by country and region. In China, the largest automobile market, economic models mainly designed for taxis are made by Chinese automakers partnered with foreign ones: such as the Santana of Shanghai-Volkswagen and the old Elantra of Beijing-Hyundai. In Shenzhen, which is rapidly expanding its electric taxi business, Chinese automaker BYD’s compact electric crossover e6 is used as a taxi. BYD e6 electric taxis are also rapidly spreading in Hong Kong, where Toyota Crown Comfort taxis were mainly used.

Grab Bike: a ride-hailing service in Southeast Asia, where motorcycles are the main means of transportation

Southeast Asia is also changing, where Toyota’s economical small sedan was mainly used as a taxi. Luxury taxis are increasing, and MPVs – taxis that can also be used for multiple purposes – are emerging. In Southeast Asia, motorcycles are often used as the most common means of transportation to survive in poor road conditions and traffic congestion. Ride-hailing services ‘Grab Bike’ and ‘Go-jek (motorcycle only)’ use motorcycles like taxis in the area.

Kia Niro Plus: now specialized in taxi service

The number of electric taxis is rapidly increasing in Korea as well.

Compared to other countries, taxis in Korea are not diverse. Private taxis can operate SUVs or imported cars, but these are still considered to have low profitability. Mid-size sedans are mainly sold for taxis, considering the long mileage, economic efficiency, and maintenance. Recently, however, the number of ride-hailing services using minivans and MPVs, as well as LPG SUVs and various electric vehicles, have emerged, and the types of vehicles used as taxis have diversified. In particular, eco-friendly electric taxis that do not emit exhaust gas are increasing rapidly, especially in large cities.

As of March of this year, 2,204 units of the Niro EV taxi, which led the trend of electric taxis in Korea, are in operation. Last year, taxis based on dedicated electric vehicles such as Hyundai Motor’s IONIQ 5 and Kia EV6 also increased significantly. According to the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association, the number of newly registered electric taxis in the past three years was 1,018 in 2019 and 901 in 2020, but last year, 4,991 electric taxis were registered, a 453.9% increase compared to 2020. The driving range of the latest electric vehicles has significantly increased. Fuel costs are much lower than those of internal combustion locomotives. They also have various convenience features, so they have been chosen by taxi drivers who have to do many miles every day.

Rendered image of the Kia Niro Plus

A new wind is expected to blow with the advent of the Kia Niro Plus taxi in the rapidly changing domestic taxi market. The Niro EV-based Niro Plus represents Kia’s PBV business. This model will be released as a PBV specially designed for taxis, mobility services, and general passenger cars. The Niro Plus Taxi, to be specific, offers comfortable ride quality for both drivers and passengers. The Niro Plus Taxi with increased ceiling height helps passengers get on and off the vehicle, provides a cozy cabin space, and has various convenience features.

In addition, Niro Plus Taxi provides a battery warranty of 300,000 km and operates a taxi-only membership to enhance the business value of taxi operators, while also including an All-in-One Display, an exclusive feature for a pleasant and safe work environment. Since there are no car models specifically designed for taxis in Korea, the cabins of taxis look messy with fare meters and smartphones plugged into the center fascia and console. The drivers may be distracted by these gadgets, affecting drivers’ and passengers’ safety. In addition, taxi drivers have been swamped with all the devices that new policies and taxi services brought – Brand Calls, card payments, mobile taxi applications, etc.

Simplified All-in-One Display of Kia Niro Plus

Niro Plus Taxi houses the All-in-One Display to create a comfortable and convenient environment for taxi drivers so that new services can be easily applied by using the over-the-air (OTA) update function. In addition, one infotainment monitor will display all the necessary information – such as locations of EV charging stations or charging status – based on each driving record.

The automatic transmission of driving information through the Taxi Operation Information Management System (TIMS), developed in conjunction with the Korea Transportation Safety Authority, enhances taxi drivers’ convenience. In the past, in order to register taxi and terminal information in the taxi operation information management system, it was necessary for the driver to fill out the application form and send it through e-mail or fax machines. As such, the Niro Plus Taxi specializes in transportation services and a convenient All-in-One Display, and is preparing for various features as its name suggests PBV (Purpose Built Vehicle, Purpose-Based Mobility). In addition, Kia plans to introduce a new model for camping, utilizing the excellent interior space of the Niro Plus.

Kia plans to introduce a PBV specialized in mobility services after 2025

Furthermore, Kia plans to build a dedicated PBV lineup from 2025 and introduce models specialized in ride-hailing and logistics. The first dedicated PBV model to be presented by Kia has a structure in which various body types are combined, maximizing the advantages of a low body and flat platform to realize a large cabin space with a high ceiling for adults and excellent loading capacity. In addition, it has optimized features tailored for transportation services, such as real-time wireless updates and durability of 600,000 km. It will provide a safe and efficient mobility experience with Level 4 autonomy.

Kia’s PBV will also provide business solutions. Specialized packages, such as mobility and delivery, will allow the PBV owners to choose their preferred services, from purchase to disposal. The Niro Plus represents the beginning of Kia’s PBV strategy.